New Role, Same Clyde

Last season, D.C. United’s roster consisted of two former MLS MVP’s in Christian Gomez and Luciano Emilio, as well as two former MLS Cup MVP’s in Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen. Yet, the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2009 was Clyde Simms. That accomplishment represents how much Simms means to the team. Now, consider all of the player movement from the recent off season, especially in regards to key attacking players, and you will start to understand how essential Simms is to D.C. United’s on the field success. In the 2010 season opener in Kansas City, Simms only played 33 minutes before going down with a hamstring injury. Recently, Simms has returned to the field and has had a major impact.

“I feel good,” said Simms. “I feel like I’m finally starting to get my fitness back, starting to feel strong and getting better with each game.”

It’s no coincidence that, with Simms back on the field, the team is playing much better than weeks prior.

As a player who has been a vital part of the defensive midfield since joining the team in 2005, Simms has been a main reason for the team’s recent defensive improvement.

“We’re a lot more organized defensively, which is something we’ve been working on. We’re harder to break down now. Things are coming along nicely. We can still get a couple of guys back from injury and really get this team turned around.”

Since day one in 1996, D.C. United has always had a classic attacking midfielder orchestrating the offense. This season, Head Coach Curt Onalfo has implemented a new tactical approach, using a pair of central midfielders that share defensive responsibilities.

Simms commented on the change of philosophy, “We’re playing a different style now, and it’s a good style. It can be very effective in this League, especially. It gives me a little more opportunity to get forward. I’ve gotten a couple of chances on goal - I’ve been a little bit unfortunate, like the other night [at FC Dallas], but it gives me a little more freedom to get forward. It helps to throw the other team off; they never know who’s coming and when they’re coming.”

The variety in attack has helped D.C. United break out of their struggles from the start of the season. Simms returned to the field in the home match against New York. In spite of the result, United looked genuinely dangerous in the attack during that game for the first time all season. Against the Red Bulls, Simms was D.C.’s most likely player to score. He had several long distance strikes that either narrowly missed or were saved by the goalkeeper and he also snuck into the penalty area for an excellent chance to score on a header from close range. Simms was also dangerous against Kansas City and he smashed a shot off the post against FC Dallas this past weekend.

As United continues to play without the attacking midfielder, there will continue to be more space for Simms to move forward. Kurt Morsink has been working alongside Simms in the center of the midfield, and the two have quickly understood the balance they have to maintain with each other. During his entire career with United, Simms has been in many respects an additional defender, making sure that he filled gaps in the midfield when the attacking players surged forward. Simms still has important defensive responsibilities, but now there is more room for him to operate when moving forward.

Simms can be a creative player when given the chance, and he spoke about making the most of his new opportunities, “With the formation we played in years past, I basically had to hold. If I got out of that position it left the team vulnerable. I had to be disciplined and really stay in there. With this newer formation that we’ve been playing, Kurt [Morsink] and I have had that understanding that if one of us is going [forward], the other one has to hold. That gives me some opportunities to get forward.”

The new role for Clyde Simms means new responsibilities. In the past, any time he scored, the goal was a bonus to an already lethal attack. At this point, Simms will be counted upon to score and collect assists. D.C. now puts the onus of guiding the attack on the pair of central midfielders, and in order for the team to succeed Simms has to significantly increase his statistics from previous seasons. Now in his sixth season as a member of D.C. United, Simms is a natural team leader. As the club begins a critical stretch of games this weekend at RFK Stadium against Colorado, if they are going to climb back into the MLS playoff picture, Clyde Simms will be at the center of the success.